As the concern regarding climate change and greenhouse gases grow, you may question your environmental impact and how to define carbon footprint. Of equal concern is how you can find ways to reduce your contribution through low-impact living.
Origins of the Term
The phrase carbon footprint was derived from the term ecological footprint, coined by Professor William Rees in a 1992 paper published in the journal, Environment and Urbanization. Rees described the balance that exists between what people take and use from the environment versus the availability of nature's resources to continue to provide them.
He recognized that different activities have varying weights on what impact they have on the environment. Later, this term evolved into what is known today as carbon footprint. The concept is a more refined measure of what you and your activities have on nature in terms of carbon dioxide.
Define Carbon Footprint
Your carbon footprint assesses the impact your daily life based on the amount of carbon dioxide needed to fuel your activities. It is expressed as the number of tons of carbon dioxide you contribute in a given time period, usually a year. It includes obvious measures such as how much fuel you use to travel to and from work or for personal needs. It also considers other impacts that may not be as obvious.
Whether you fly or take public transportation, you are contributing to the release of fossil fuel emissions, albeit less than from driving a car. Energy is still needed to fuel whatever form of transportation you take.
Home energy is another one of the larger contributors to your carbon footprint. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as of 2011, about 38 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from generating electricity. For the average person, that amounts to about 12 percent of their carbon footprint derived from home energy.
When you attempt to define carbon footprint, you are forced to look at other areas in your daily life where you may have an impact on the environment and thus carbon dioxide emissions. What you learn may surprise you.
Food and Dining
Your diet also has an impact on your carbon footprint. If you eat meat, it contributes in an indirect way through the energy demands to raise livestock, to get them to market, and finally to get the meat to your home. A vegetarian lifestyle does not negate the fact that fuel is needed to run the farm equipment or to harvest produce.
There is potential impact whether you are cooking at home or eating out. Energy, the most of which is produced from fossil fuels, is adding to your carbon footprint.
Clothing and Personal Items
The new dress you buy or the pair of shoes also costs energy. Likewise, every product you use day-to-day requires the output of energy to create it and transport it to the store for you to purchase. Of course, some items have a higher cost in terms of the energy needed to produce them.
Recreation and Leisure
Even your recreation and leisure time adds to your carbon load. If you are taking a vacation to relax on the beach, you still need transportation to get there. If you are hiking in the mountains, you still need to buy the proper outdoor gear and that costs energy to produce. The fact remains that your lifestyle affects the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere whether or not you are aware of it.
Coming to Grips with Your Carbon Footprint
As you begin to understand your impact on the environment, you become more conscious about the environmental costs of your lifestyle. You may decide to buy local produce instead or turn down your thermostat to save energy. Any action you take helps.
You cannot of course, wipe out your entire carbon footprint. Everyone contributes to their own carbon footprint every day. By understanding and knowing how to define carbon footprint, you can find ways to reduce your own carbon footprint and live an eco-friendly lifestyle.